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Rare 1891 steel boat built by Michigan inventor being restored for display

Petoskey News-Review

Harbor Springs – A rusted and damaged boat built in the late 1800s by a northern Michigan inventor is undergoing an extensive restoration with the goal of putting the revamped vessel on display in the Lake Michigan resort community of Harbor Springs.

The Harbor Springs Area Historical Society began restoring the Aha after city officials requested the removal of the decaying boat near the city’s Department of Public Works building.

“We thank you for that nudge to bring this artifact to life for our community,” said Kristyn Balog, executive director of the nonprofit Harbor Springs Area Historical Society, during a recent Harbor Springs City Council meeting.

Students from the Industrial Arts Institute make welding repairs to the boat Aha in Onaway.

Inventor Ephraim Shay built the vessel in 1891, and Balog noted that the artifact is important to the community because it shows one way Shay left an imprint on the city.

In 1888, Shay moved to the Harbor Springs area and developed a local railroad among other inventions and projects, according to the Petoskey News-Review. He’s renowned for designing a hexagonal-shaped house known as the Shay Hexagon House.

The all-steel Aha was a rarity because most boats built during that time were made of wood. Its engine was removed in the 1930s, and while the main body of the ship was being moved for storage, it had to be beached at Sucker Creek because it took in water. The Aha returned to Harbor Springs in 2003 and was placed outside the city’s Department of Public Works building.

The Aha is shown outside the city of Harbor Springs Department of Public Works outbuilding on Aug. 10, 2010.

In addition to working toward permanent preservation of the vessel, Balog’s organization aims to maintain the historical ties between Shay’s other projects in Harbor Springs.

“As a historical society, it is our responsibility that we hold these artifacts in trust for public use, and we would like to make this vessel useful to the public,” Balog said.